Friday, February 29, 2008

Groundhog Day Effect

Consider this a cautionary tale for those of you considering taking care of your aging narcissistic parent.

By care I mean taking responsibility in some significant way. This could mean personal caretaking or managing the care of your elderly narcissistic parent.

You may have no other choice, due to finances or other family dynamics.

You may decide it's your moral duty to do so, like me.

Beware of the Groundhog Day Effect. It's nearly impossible to avoid.

Remember that movie with Bill Murray about the weatherman who finds himself repeating the same day over and over again, the day that he was forced to cover the much hated assignment of the stupid yearly Groundhog Day event?

Well, taking care of your impossibly difficult aging narcissist may mean that you'll find yourself living the same day over and over again...some event in your past...triggered by something your aging narcissist says or does.

Confused? Here's how it "works" for me.

My personal Groundhog Day is set in 1983. Since my adoptive mother cut me off emotionally and financially when I went to college (having betrayed her by leaving home to go to school 400 miles away), I had to pay for all my college expenses. This meant working nearly full-time while carrying a full load of classes.

Once, between jobs, I found myself so short of money that I didn't have enough to eat. Desperate, I called my adoptive father for a loan of $50-75, which I promised to pay back. He never sent it. He never called to say it wasn't coming. He just left me hanging. He avoided my phone calls. Later, he said my adoptive mother had threatened to divorce him if he sent the money. He held the checkbook and could have done so secretly...or sent cash which she couldn't track. Since he's a big liar, I'm not even sure if this is the truth. The fact is, he failed to help the one time I asked.

Fast forward 25 years.

Once a week, I get a phone call from the same man asking for chocolate covered raisins. Which I send promptly. If he doesn't get them in 2-3 days, he begins calling at all hours. He demands to know what the hell happened because he's waiting. He says he needs them. Desperately. He can't live without his fucking chocolate covered raisins.

See how this works?

He wants his candy...which I faithfully provide...when he couldn't even loan me, his only child, a lousy $50 bucks because I was hungry. For food. So everytime he calls asking for the candy, it's Groundhog Day! I go right back to 1983 and recall how he let me down. Over and over again.

I'm just warning you, that's all. About the sheer perversity of some risks associated with caring for an aging narcissistic parent. Beware the Groundhog Day Effect.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Prepare to be Triggered

This is an ad created by Ogilvy and Mather, India for The Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption & Child Welfare.

In case you can't read the small print, the ad copy says, "Adopt. Receive more than you can give."

For an excellent analysis of the ad, from an adoptee's perspective, please visit and read her Feb. 15th post and the interesting exchange of comments.
This ad may have been created to capture the hearts and minds of prospective adoptive parents (especially the crazy needy ones), but what it does - brilliantly - is capture the creepy, disturbing, skewed relationship of a parentified child caretaking her narcissistic parent.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Downside of Staying in Contact

There is a downside, a big one, to staying in contact with a narcissistic parent (or friend, etc.)

No matter how much progress you make emotionally detaching. No matter how successful you think you are at creating boundaries. No matter how deeply you understand the dynamics of this extremely dysfunctional relationship. No matter how clearly you can articulate how you've adapted to your narcissistic parent or how you've unwittingly enabled him (or her) or what you've done to make sure you didn't end up a full blown narcissist yourself.

There's still blowback.

And I swear, some days, the wind blows so hard it knocks you right off your feet.

Because staying in contact with a narcissist costs you. At least, there's a direct cost to me.

The other day, I had a double serving of the narcissists in my life.

First, a self-centered friend who launched into her current tale of woe for our entire lunch.

Later, my adoptive ndad who talked about his day and the weather, but didn't allow me to say more than three words together. Which is what he always does. "Talking" with him is a weird experience. You might as well not be there. If he asks a question, he doesn't allow you to answer it. He'll cut you off as soon as you manage to utter, "Uh" and switch to another topic. If he asks how the grandkids are doing and I say, "They're really sick," he'll not express any concern or ask any questions, but he will tell you how he's managing to avoid getting sick at the assisted living facility.'s the blowback. The next day, I literally felt like I didn't exist. That there was no me. I felt empty. Invisible. Ghosts don't have interests or personal projects or goals they must work on. It was like I was floating through the day. I got nothing done. I could not work on my book. I couldn't even neaten my desk. I took a nap I didn't need because, I suspect, I was trying to disappear.

While I have progressed to not feeling churned up or angry after dealing with ndad, he still exerts such a powerful, primitive pull that I am dragged right back to where I don't want to go. (By the way, I stay in limited and controlled contact because I am an only child and act as his power of attorney. And since he's a narcissist, there's not one other single person in his life.)

Today, I snapped out of it. I'm feeling more like myself, less like a vessel. This gives me some hope. Maybe when he dies, I'll finally be free. To be me. As for that self-centered friend, I'm conducting an experiment. I'm not talking to her for a bit because I want to maintain this positive mood. I plan on writing today and I don't want anything to disrupt that. I want to observe how time-off from the narcissists in life impacts productivity.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Now What? The Other Narcissists in my Life

My second serious boyfriend was a narcissist. I realize that now. Years after we broke up, he was diagnosed with biopolar disorder and wrote me a 12-step letter of apology. I met him shortly after starting college because, I guess, after shedding my controlling, self-centered adoptive parents, I needed someone to boss me around. Maybe all that sudden freedom from tyranny was just too scary. So I invited a super critical tyrant into my life. Not that it was all bad. He was hard working and brilliant and showed me how to succeed in college. Sort of like having Henry VIII as a college mentor.

The friends I chose to make after therapy to deal with my issues stemming from having narcissistic parents differ wildly from those I made before.

This was highlighted this past week.

My non-narcissistic friend called and we chatted about all sorts of things. Back and forth. Books, movies, vacation plans, kids, blah blah. I hung-up feeling good and looked forward to talking with her again.

Had lunch with a narcissistic friend hoping things would be different this time. She spent the entire lunch talking about a serious problem with her son (which she wouldn't have if her narcissism hadn't prevented her from getting the help he needed while still in high school).

The thing is, she always has a problem. If it's not her son, it's her daughter or her husband or something at work. Whatever is going on her life is a crisis and I willingly listen without saying much myself. She does have some good qualities. Occasionally, she will listen to me and say nice, supportive things. But the relationship is basically 90-10 in her favor.

The dramatic question is....can this relationship be saved?

Should I even try to?

Can it be tires? Assert myself more. Demand equal time.

After being with this friend, I'm churned up or worried on her kids' behalf and we're right back to the crux of MY problem. The fact that I feel I owe this "friendship" my effort instead of scaling it back and protecting myself and working more earnestly to find non-narcissistic friends.

One of the things that has made me stick with her, oddly, is my fear of cutting her off because that might make me like my narcissistic father, who cut people off the second they displeased him. Because they failed to give him the kind of attention he demanded. Maintaining relationships, even unhealthy ones, means I'm not like my self-centered adad. I'm terrified at the thought of having narcissistic traits and the cutting-off of friends is something adad did all the time, throughout his life. So every time I take a take a step in the right direction - pulling back from this narcissistic friend - I give in and make one more lunch date or walk date....hoping I'm wrong. That I've exaggerated her self-centeredness. But it's just repeated.

To boot, she zinged me. I told her, pleased, that I'd been invited to join a decision making council at the high school. My competitive, narcissistic friend said she'd belonged to such a council at the elementary school and back then, it was considered an elite club and not just anybody could join. She then said it must be easier to "get in" now and that they must have trouble finding members.

Humph! My reaction? I just sat there like a dummy and said nothing. Later, I fumed. But made excuses like...I'm just too sensitive. "She probably didn't mean it that way."

This isn't the first time she's zinged me. She's done it plenty times before and the problem is NOT HER. IT'S ME. Many other people would not tolerate this behavior. Me? I'm still thinking I can fix it. Which shows I've got a lot more personal work to do.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Trapped in the Mirror

My therapist, who specializes in helping adult children of narcissists, recommended, "Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self," by Elan Golomb (1992, Harper, in paperback).

He thought I might find the detailed and very personal case studies interesting. And I did. It was fascinating, in watching a train wreck sort of way, to see how each adult was damaged by their self-absorbed parent.

For the record, I highly recommend the book even though I think it sort of fell apart at the end.

The title, however, is BRILLIANT.

I came to admire its stunning accuracy this week after several conversations with my narcissistic adoptive father.

First, he called from his assisted living facility to say he'd caught a cold. I offered my usual sympathy and comfort. But he'd called, mostly, so I could HEAR HIS VOICE. With a slight rasp brought on by the cold, his voice had become deep and throaty. He wanted me to hear "how sexy" he sounded. Then he went on and on about how he'd never liked his voice (too thin) and how'd he always wanted a sexy voice, etc.

In the past, he's
--boasted how desirable he was to other women
--boasted to my husband about his sexual conquests
--told me about his bodily functions and when I protested, he said, "But this is me! I want you to know about this! It's important that you know!"
--sent pictures of himself and later asked for admiration
--told me how other people are nobodies and what he'd do if he were in charge

For most of my life, I was trapped into reflecting my father back to himself. There was no me. I simply existed as his mirror. Growing up, I thought this was perfectly normal. That this was the job of the child. To provide emotional support and comfort to the parent. It would never, ever have occurred to me to go to my adoptive father with any problem. I never asked for advice or sought reassurance. It would have been too selfish. The one time I admitted that I was nervous about a biopsy, he turned it into his drama. How upset I had made him. And who, he demanded, would take care of him if I died? When I asked if he wouldn't be worried about the prospect of his granddaughters without a mother, he said, "Forget them! They have their father to take care of them! What about me?"

And that has always been the Big Question.

What about him?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Price of Good Elder Care

Has this occurred to any of you?

That the price of good elder care is prolonging lives way beyond natural expectation?

If I'd hired average in-home care for my narcissistic elderly adoptive father, chances are he'd be dead by now.

I'm sure of it.

But since he's in a top notch assisted living facility, his life has been saved numerous times.

Today he almost died.

He almost died a couple weeks ago.

He has Lewy Body dementia and has trouble swallowing. He nearly choked to death. Once on soup. Today on bread.

It was a terrifying experience for him. He said, "Oh God, this isn't how I want to go. I want to die in my sleep!"

The nurses saved him by doing to the Heimlich. Twice now. If he'd stayed home, even with help, he would have been dead by now. By forcing him into a high quality assisted living facility I not only did the right and moral thing, I've prolonged his life. Beyond it's natural limits. He's miserable. And so am I. This is one of the unintended consequences of the top notch assisted living facility.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Not every blog reader has time to read through the comments.

Once in a while, (often, actually) someone leaves a comment that is especially insightful or meaningful and I think, gee, I hope everybody reads that.

So I decided to copy and paste this comment - written by Anonymous Bob - and share it with you. (I hope he doesn't mind).

We were talking about what an enormous difference it makes when the adult child of a narcissist finally gets third party confirmation that their parent is impossible.

"Yes! Because when somebody validates the truth about our situation, about our parents or our history, a truth we may have felt but a truth that we couldn't understand or admit intellectually because we were busy trying to adapt and conform to survive there will be a release of the tension between our feelings and thoughts because finally our intellectual understanding and our feelings are at least a step closer to being in sync!

I'm starting to think that this may be the most important thing in healing from having narcissistic parents. Maybe we can't change our parents but we can finally find the truth about how things were - we can have our experiences and our feelings validated."

(emphasis mine)

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Doctor Gives Advice

At one point, my (adoptive) childlike, narcissistic father became so difficult, that I decided to take matters into my own hands and find a geriatric specialist. We needed help.

The question? Should I allow Adad to continue living in his own home as he insisted, despite the ominous warning signs of a failing memory, repeated falls, a dirty house and near empty refrigerator? Adad refused even part-time help of a housekeeper or someone to check up on him. (I live 400 miles away). The neighbors were getting pretty fed up. He kept calling them for help, the very same people he'd treated with disdain.

I flew in for the appointment with the geriatric specialist.

I was running a bit late, maybe five minutes. As I ran up the stairs, I could hear my father practically shouting. He was explaining, at top volume, that he was miserable and his bladder was out of control and he needed to be seen immediately. It didn't matter that there was a waiting room full of people. I saw people recoil. They held their magazines up close to their faces or acted engrossed in their children, hoping to avoid him. Adad had the look of a man casting about for a sympathetic ear. When he saw me, he didn't ask how my early morning flight was or if I had time to eat, he immediately launched into his own tale of woe.

After the appointment, I was to meet with the geriatric specialist only once.

His advice?

Find an assisted living facility for Adad. Immediately. He was no longer able to live alone safely. He was showing signs of Lewy Body dementia, a disease that affects the frontal lobes (and impairs judgment). He strongly advised me not to attempt to hire caretakers. A single caretaker, he warned me, wouldn't last a day with my father. Adad was a lethal combination of neediness and rudeness, he observed, and I'd spend all my time replacing caretakers.

"People like him," said the doctor grimly, "are at much greater risk for elder abuse. Better spread around the joy, if you get what I mean. People who work at an assisted living facility or nursing home are trained to deal with difficult personalities and it won't be just one person caring for him, it will be many, so he won't burn them out as fast."

The doctor then went on to express his concern (annoyance) that my father hadn't answered any of his questions because he talked nonstop. "Was he always like this?" he asked.

"All his life," I said.

"So that's not the dementia? He always goes on and on like that? It's like he wasn't hearing me at all."

"Yes," I said. "I'm 43 and I've never finished a single sentence in my life."

He shook his head. In wonder or disgust I'm not too sure.

I was filled with joy. This was my first outside confirmation that Adad was not just a difficult person, but a nearly impossible one. I wasn't crazy! I wasn't selfish! I wasn't to blame for not loving this man who had adopted me! The doctor, a geriatric specialist, clearly loathed my father after a twenty minute appointment! The dislike was right there on his face to see. What he did not understand was that Adad was and is a childlike, narcissist.

Not even this geriatric specialist would put up with Adad. He dropped him as a patient.

Luckily, Adad has become less offensive as his dementia has progressed, but I've noticed the new doctor spends the bare minimum of time with him. Finding good care for the aging narcissist is a real challenge.